Mischief in the street

Toucan stripes.


Zebra crossing. Call it what you will but those painted lines pretend to demarcate areas of safety for those afoot. Pretend because those lines act as drag strip race starting and finishing lines where drivers think pedestrians mere spectators. And spectators we are until we start to change our mindset about how we use and share our streets. Sorry automobiles, the time of your reign is over. Streets are for people. Way back when, The City Repair Project started cultivating community with the Sunnyside Piazza pictured below. Like Hans Moderman, Ben Hamilton-Baillie and David Engwitch, we should envision a new way to cross, walk, run, hop along our streets.

Streets made for people * theurbanimagined.wordpress.com

Cue this week’s short story, Lofty’s jungle fun taken from the Bob the Builder Annual 2005. For those of you uninitiated, Lofty is a blue crane truck (sometimes with wrecking ball) and part of Bob the Builder’s construction crew (with the likes of Scoop the digger, Muck the bulldozer). With two avid construction equipment ankle biter aficionados, it was only a matter of time that I’d mention Bob. I’m not quite sure why Lofty gets top billing as it is Spud, the scarecrow who steals the show, literally and figuratively in this story. A school mural is being painted by Molly. Vertically challenged, she Romper Rooms**some paint tins to use as stilts to finish the top edge of the mural. Spud absconds with the romper stompers stepping in paint along the way. He runs across town and leaves polka dotted trails especially over the new road crossing. His escapades finally end when he is hooked by Lofty. Spud is then required to clean up his mischief in the public realm.

Ankle biter 1 loves his Bob the Builder. Incidentally he broke out into the theme song during a premeditated silent stint in a publicly crowded place. He absorbs his two Bob annuals. Although there is no excavator in the crew, he eyeball-drying focuses on each adventure. So no brainer he loves the short story. I adore the story twofold. One, murals. Nothing like a little colour on the wall to enliven a space. Better yet if Molly invited the children to paint along- at least handprints-. Two, it hinted at the possibility of shared streets. Although I don’t like the fact that Spud was made to clean up his mess. Those polka dots may very well slow down traffic. Zebra crossings and footpaths should be made more colourful, more user-friendly. Place it on the radar of both perambulators and motorists.  Take a cue from Jody Xiong who created a green pedestrian crosswalk. Not only a statement on environmental responsibility but a visually arresting shared space. Next time you walk across the lines, think how the space might be altered with colour.

Jody Xiong creates a visual shared space *theurbanimagine.wordpress.com

**Yea, I may have dated myself. But back in the days I remember watching Romper Room. Boy, did I want to drive in those cardboard box fire engines!!! And because my parents weren’t suckers to advertising, I made do with my own romper stompers sans cans. More like walking strings. Ahhh childhood.

Images taken from Sunnyside Piazza — The City Repair Project, author’s photos of Bob the Builder and Green Pedestrian Crossing in China Creates Leaves from Footprints | Colossal


#urbankindness take 3

urban sympathy

Welcome back to urban kindness: 7 weeks 7 projects. Has the turkey, ham, fish, tofurkey, yesterday’s daylong pickings settled comfortably in your tum? A mighty reward I say if you embarked upon a meander in your hood! The beauty of observing your hood is that you incrementally become what Jane Jacobs referred to as “the eyes on the street” or the unobtrusive caretakers of the area.

“There must be eyes on the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street.” -Jane Jacobs

It is not a light responsibility- being a proprietor of your neighbourhood. It requires investment and the development of a relationship with your place. From your observations and interactions, however, sprout hundreds of acts of urban kindness. From observing my neighbourhood, I knew there was a panoply of younger ones who would be slightly intrigued at the prospect of an alternative hopscotch. So for this week’s project, I’d like to build upon your observations as well as the spirit of giving thanks. From your observations, write down 50 things in your neighbourhood for which you are grateful. This meditative exercise can increase and sustain positive emotion! Maybe, maybe not but it does make you really think about what is happening in your hood. Ten should be easy. Thirty should begin to work your muscles. I’ll share some of mine, if you share some of yours…

walkerNo-one told us to get off the street when the Ankle biters were rolling their noisy walkers down the hill, each day, during the summer. The lady at the top of the hill who always waved at Ankle biter 2 during aforementioned outdoor play. Wild blueberries growing by the rubbish bins. The garbos waving hello every week. The backyard neighbour who hosted a stellar Bonfire Night. Being invited to a party by the neighbour who saw us lounging in the sun. The secret passageway rather pedestrian and not vehicular thoroughfare. The big white star in the window that I always ask Ankle Biter 1 to point at….

AND I’d like to leave you with: The post/delivery personnel who leave our packages with our neighbours. I thought it odd at first. But there is inherent trust in humans to do so and for that, I am sincerely grateful.


#urbankindness take 2

urban sympathy

Welcome back to urban kindness: 7 weeks 7 projects. I hope you have dusted the chalk off your fingers. After much thought, I think I might have lead you a bit astray. (Blame my giddiness for the impulsiveness!)  I think honestly before you can share some urban kindness, you probably should know a thing or two about your own sliver of urban. So consider this week’s project a new beginning.

 In 1959, Kevin Lynch (an urban design theorist) invited twenty-seven people to take a walk with him in Boston, Massachusetts. (Oh, Kevin, if only I were alive!) Underlying this seemingly innocuous walk was the belief that aspects of the neighbourhood influence people’s memory and subsequent use of the space.

“We are about to take a short walk. Don’t look for anything in particular, but tell me about the things you see, hear, or smell; everything and anything you notice.” -Kevin Lynch

When is the last time you took a walk in your neighbourhood? A true lingering walk, noticing the colour of your neighbours jumper? The cracks on the footpath? The whizz of the bicycles? For this week’s project, I challenge you to walk in your neighbourhood. Pretend you’re with Kevin (at least I do) and capture either in your mind’s eye or on your phone’s camera the details that create the intricacies of your neighbourhood. If you’d like, please share along on instagram tagging it with #urbankindness. Knowing your neighbourhood is the first and enduring urban kindness that you can do. Enjoy your saunter!

#urbankindness take 1

urban sympathy

Welcome back to urban kindness: 7 weeks 7 projects and happy World Kindness Day to you. Did you wake up with a smile today? I certainly didn’t. It was raining. But then I remembered that I was off to post the inaugural urban kindness act. That’s the beauty of urban kindness, simple and swift, it changes the mood instantaneously. I endeavour all of these acts to occur outside, if even only outside your doorstep. They require a little gumption on your part because after all you will be interacting with the world thar yonder. They will be simple because I am not a complicated kind of person and require minimal materials. Anonymous kindness is the best kind but if you feel like sharing (and I hope you do because I want to be equally inspired) pop it up on instagram tagging it with #urbankindness. So onwards and upwards!

I’d like to think I breathe out colour. Vivid indigo and brilliant cerise and quiet eggshell. So for this inaugural act it is befitting it involves colour. That’s right, a little covert chalk art. I’m inspired by all those out there. A big shout out to Matty Angel as I was moved to do this:

An outdoor hopscotch for the young and young at heart in the hood. I just used actions that Ankle biter 1 seems keen on these days. Actions are as limited as your imagination…

Stand and kiss the sky.

Do a little dance,


Walk backwards.

Whisper hello.

I couldn’t tell you who followed along if they did at all but my neighbour let me know at the end of the evening as I knocked on her door to drop off some post “Is that your drawing? We just got done playing with it.” Yippee.

#urbankindness bench warmth
#urbankindness bench warmth

I didn’t stop there. With chalk in hand I walked over to the park and left my mark. You see, I walk through this park every week and usually I see some solitaire individual sitting at the bench eating lunch. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if they were out in this weather to see something nice. A tingle of warmth if you will?  I think the thing about the park is that it is quite PUBLIC. The shy part of me clouded my thinking: I was not suppose to be ‘defacing’ footpaths. What if someone stops me? But come on, it’s chalk. It’s temporary. It’s an act of kindness. It’s drizzling. So the shyness wilted and I tried to make someone’s day a little less dreary. Will you come and chalk art some kindness with me?

Urban kindness: 7 weeks 7 projects

urban sympathy
urban sympathy @theurbanimagined.wordpress.com

This Friday the 13th is your lucky day. Thank the person on your right (really!) because it’s World Kindness Day. Do we really need a day to acknowledge our actions of sincerity towards life? Like Earth Day, sprouting from the consciousness of the 60s and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, we take the day to contemplate the impacts of each deliberate choice we make. Even still, although Earth Day should be EVERYDAY, our attention deficiencies have sparked awareness to an hour. So yes, the fact that we can’t take time to focus on the bounded resources of this beautiful planet, yes, yes we do need a day to be reminded of the humane in our humanity!

In celebration of the urban imagined, I think it befitting that I focus on acts of urban kindness. Jaime Lerner suggests that urban kindness is fundamentally entwined with the health of cities. It requires us to be receptive to and promote acts of affection for the city. A love affair with our cities, urban kindness is a relationship between giving and taking.

There are people who go about their business with pleasure or make no secret of the joy they take in their everyday lives.

welcome to the Boneyard
welcome to the boneyard

Taking and breathing in these urban kindnesses anchors us and persuades us to identify. If we identify with the city, we take care of it, nourish it: invest.  If we just open our eyes, there are demonstrations of urban kindness all around. Twenty years ago, I was enchanted by the petrol station sign on the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard. “Free aspirin & tender sympathy.” Cheekiness for the bleary-eyed. In a city of gluttony, a reminder that someone cares. For those leaving to travel back along Interstate 15, this sign probably encouraged a curvature of the mouth. But for others, it actually may have offered some much needed relief. Especially in the desert, kindness sprouts. If you are keen, you’ll notice the sign is no longer at the petrol station. But luckily the kindred spirits at the Boneyard are keeping the sentiment alive. The Neon Museum is definitely an urban kindness.

Thus, every FRIDAY starting with this upcoming 13th for SEVEN weeks until the 25th of December, I’ll post a random act of urban kindness that you can recreate in your little breath of the world. Consider it my Kwanzaa, Diwali, Hanukkah, let’s-just-celebrate-the-goodness-in-things presents to us all. Hope to see you Friday.

[Photos by Vivian Romero of petrol station sign & Standard Wholesale Supply lady, Las Vegas]

TWO things do with extra yarn

ONE. The vibrancy of yarn bombing cannot be escaped. From the young and the young at heart (104 year old!), people are crafting tactile graffiti where public objects are wrapped in crocheted or knitted conviviality. Magda Sayeg is considered the mother of yarn bombing often known for her Mexico City yarn-bombed bus.  Reasons for yarn bombing vary: from subversion, activism and/or beautification. Whatever the intention, a similar outcome remains: observers are greeted with a visual feast. The public is invited to take pause from their daily schedule and contemplate if even for a microsecond (whether in appreciation or disgust is between them and their gods). The photographs above and below were taken from Melbourne Fresh Daily of Mill Park Library in the City of Whittlesea, Victoria. That fluoro pink granny square down below? Yep, that’s me.

TWO. Read this week’s book: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. The protagonist is Annabelle who uncovers a box filled with yarn. As you do, she decides to knit a jumper for herself. Observing the extra yarn, she decides to knit a jumper for her trusty canine, Mars.  With the discovery of endless yarn, Annabelle embarks on knitting articles of clothing for everyone and every thing in town. Annabelle and the town become something of a marvel. An archduke ‘who was very fond of clothes’ landed one day and attempted to buy the box of yarn from Annabelle. A sinister plan was hatched to acquire Annabelle’s box of yarn. Needless to say, the story concludes with Annabel in a yarn bombed tree, completely happy. The illustrations of the town pre-yarn bombing are sparse and invoke the somber of a quiet snowed-covered town. For some odd reason, Scandinavia comes to mind. But the pages illuminate with a muted luminescence as Annabelle weaves her magic. For fans of Klassen, characters from his stories make cameo appearances.

A scene from Extra Yarn
A scene from Extra Yarn

Let’s get past the fact that this book is about YARN BOMBING. I’ll admit, Ankle biter 1 doesn’t really -get it- right now. I reckon we’ll try again next year when his dexterity may allow for some hand weaving. We did, however, read it religiously to him when he was first born. He didn’t seem to mind then. And if you are going to read to your children, it might as well be something you yourself enjoy. This book is that and it is one of my favourites. My cherished part of the book is when she decides not to knit a jumper.

Mr. Crabtree, who never wore jumpers or even trousers, and who would stand in his shorts with the snow up to his knees.

Annabelle makes not a jumper but a hat for Mr. Crabtree. This book, besides its creative subversion is also about compassion, generosity and eccentrics. This is my type of urban imagined. What is not to love?

(Photographs of yarn bombing by: Melbourne Fresh Daily: MILL PARK LIBRARY YARN-BOMBED, Photograph of Extra Yarn, Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen by VIvian Romero)

Pop-up porch cafe: Chocolate stout edition

It has been ten years since we bought bags of chocolate for the purpose of not eating them (!) You see, whilst in Australia, we were spared the excessive commercialism. We did try one year in Sydney- no candy, rather adult costume party. The oz invitees were darling “Do we have to dress scary?” It was a good time all around (oh apple bobbing on a string, you’re a keeper) and we decided to take the merriment further afield to one of the bars. “We don’t serve freaks.” Buzz kill. (Don’t you worry, we found a rave that welcomed ALL).

So fast forward 10 years and two ankle biters later and here we are contributing to the $7billion that Americans are spending on the holiday. We weren’t even sure if they celebrate it here in Leeds. I was secretly hoping that I would get to abscond with the Twix bars. But our neighbours had some bats on the windows and the grocery carts at the grocery stores were gang busting with pumpkins. So, we waited. The ankle biters are too young to understand and we won’t push the issue unless they are interested. But us adults, truly, we got giddy.

Why? Well, between the initiation of the pop-up porch cafe and about two weeks ago, we brewed our own beer. Forty bottles of deep chocolate stout. Fingers wiping the saliva off the side of my mouth, oh so good. Honestly, one of the top three beers I’ve tasted here in Leeds. Granted, as it was our first batch, the only consistency of quality between the bottles is the inconsistency. But when you get one, you’ll know and you’ll bow your head. So with these gems of liquid chocolate, we decided to share the wealth. Why do the kids get all the swag for the evening? We turned the tables and decided to give the adults some glorious reprieve. We knocked on four neighbours’ doors and gave them the treat and invited them to share some more.

Thus, pop-up porch cafe: chocolate stout edition rolled out. This time, the whole family sat on the porch with drinks in hand (stout, stout, milk, water) basking in the glow of the pumpkin. As darkness descended, we were all just elated: knowing we had marvellous beer and sharing it. I think that is the pulse of Halloween slowly forgotten: neighbourly kindness. One came round. Slowly, they will come.

(Photographs by Vivian Romero)